A relatable mental health programme

The Mission’s latest WeCare initiative supports seafarers in addressing barriers

By Pam Kern

The Mission to Seafarers has elevated its wellbeing resources with a series of free webinars and podcasts to address mental health at sea from a practical perspective. This is a seafarer-specific wellbeing programme with a different approach.

As a former seafarer, wife of a seafarer and a mental health professional, I have been responsible for curating the Mission’s WeCare On Board Mental Health Champions programme. I am driven by passion to deliver seafarer wellbeing that is real and relatable and to cross over the stigma barrier that comes with speaking about mental health and wellbeing. Information is not always transformational. You can provide all the mental health resources to seafarers, but if you don’t address the barriers such as stigma, how can seafarers access the resources without feeling stigmatised?

The programme looks through the lens of mental health and wellbeing as a natural extension of one’s overall health and discusses how to overcome the barriers. Stigma can come from culture, what you were taught growing up, or from life experiences. On board, seafarers may experience a work environment where it is the norm to always appear strong. If you come from a culture where mental health is not openly spoken about, that can also be very difficult as you face multiple barriers to talking about how you feel and your wellbeing. The key mantra is: “It is ok not to feel ok and it is ok to ask for help.”

I personally undertook many training programmes during my eighteen years at sea that were not maritime specific nor spoke of the unspoken: unpacking the stigma of mental health at sea. Yet there are so many social, emotional, work and home-related issues that directly affect seafarer wellbeing.

Tailored approach

The WeCare programme brings these issues to the fore from both officers’ and crew perspectives, using storytelling that is relatable to seafarers and providing a toolkit of resources specific to the dynamics of life at sea, at home and what’s in between.

The Crew series looks at wellbeing from a crew perspective. We encourage crew to ask important questions such as ‘how do I define wellbeing?’ and ‘how can I maintain wellbeing at sea?’ Through this series we promote practical methods to promote wellbeing from a personal and team perspective.

The Officer series discusses mental health and wellbeing using awareness from a cultural and work environment perspective, signposting how to spot the signs of poor mental with your crew. It examines what it looks like when officers take ownership of crew wellbeing, the benefits of a supportive work culture and the positive ripple effect for the entire crew complement. It’s care in action.

Our Podcast series invites experienced seafarers and experts to focus on these key themes. They explore how we can all promote wellbeing and provide support for ourselves and others.

Key benefits of the programme are that it addresses the needs of seafarers based on their feedback and it is curated and delivered by a former seafarer who is also a mental health professional. The resources are filled with short, clear, and fun content, bespoke to life on board. Viewers can share on social media their experiences and thoughts on what was learned from the videos and podcasts to keep the skills alive, allowing them to thrive, not just survive. Check out the series – we look forward to your feedback on Facebook, Twitter or with a MtS Chaplain available through the Mission’s live chat 24/7.

Pam Kern is a psychotherapist focusing on seafarer wellbeing and ex-seafarer who worked at sea for 18 years. To access the On Board Mental Health Champions resources, go to YouTube or visit www.missiontoseafarers.org/on-board-champions